My New Book, Surfing the Border

I will launch the tour for my new book, Surfing the Border, on Saturday January 24th in Coronado and Imperial Beach. I will be speaking and signing books at the Coronado Library Winn Room from 2-3pm and then from 5-6:30 pm I’ll be at the Pier South Resort in Imperial Beach. Should be a blast!!


Surfing Fitness

Photo: Jeff Wallis

It used to be easy.

I could surf twice a day on my shortboard and never tire.

My lower back didn’t hurt, and I was skinny.

I started surfing at the age of 13. In my hometown of Imperial Beach, the surfers I hung out with either played baseball and/or football, ran cross-country, and competed on the swim team. I swam and ran cross-country.

During the 13-years I worked as an ocean lifeguard in San Diego County, I stayed in shape working with the UCSD master’s swim team (the legendary noon mid-80’s noon workout) and trained for and competed in triathlons with my lifeguard/surfer colleagues.

My fitness role models were San Diego surfer-lifeguards turned Ironmen, Mark Allen and Scott Tinley.

After 34 years of surfing, things have changed.

My boards are thicker and wider.

After a long and strenuous surf session, my lower back hurts.

At 6’4” and 210 pounds, it is just harder for me to surf my 6’6” than it was when I was 18, weighed 170 pounds, and rode a 6’0”.

The key to surfing well into middle age and senior citizen status isn’t just an innate talent for surfing and catching waves that only most gifted surfers have (although of course that helps).

Over the past few years due to the examples of Mick Fanning, Laird Hamilton, Kelly Slater, Gerry Lopez, Joel Parkinson, and the incredible staying power of Taylor Knox, fitness for surfers is now in vogue.

The key to surfing as long as you can is staying fit.

And not half-hearted fitness, but active exercise that works your core, builds your strength, and prolongs your endurance, so that surfing is fun and you can get the most out of your sessions.

The more you can cross-train and combine strength, core and aerobic activities, the better you’ll be prepared for the epic swells the Pacific Ocean throws our way.

Here is a list of the best activities to keep you fit and in top-shape for surfing. I recommend combining a good aerobic activity (e.g. swimming and SUP) and a core/flexibility activity such as free weights and or yoga. Obviously in San Diego we have many more options including running, kayaking, kitesurfing, and bicycling.

Swimming: It seems so basic, but few surfers, with the exception of ocean lifeguards seem to understand how helpful swimming is for surfing. You work your entire body and the same muscle groups as those used in paddling. I swim with a master’s group 3-4 times a week and it an essential part of my training. Join a local Master’s program if you can.

Yoga: My good friend and veteran surfer big-wave surfer Richard Abrams, told me once after a yoga class, “I wish I had started yoga when I was 15.” There is probably nothing better for maintaining and improving flexibility than yoga. My WiLDCOAST team does an hour-long surf-yoga twice a week during our lunch break. Our class is filled with surfers who’ve figured out that yoga is the key to longevity in the water.

Free diving in Bahia de los Angeles, Baja.

Stand-up-Paddle: There is a reason why so many surfers are now active on SUPs. It is a great workout, lots of fun, and arguably one of the best activities for building core strength and aerobic capacity. My buddy Mark “Kiwi” Fields, races SUPs and besides surfing, can be found in spin and weight classes at our local gym when he is not paddlling around in the ocean.

Bodysurfing. This is about one of the best workouts possible. With a good pair of fins you’ll be pushing yourself to the max, in addition to getting some of the best barrels of your life.

Weight-training: As we age our muscles atrophy and require weight training to maintain our strength, balance and build a defense against injury and stress. Squats are arguably the single best exercise for surfing that you can do. After reading surf scribe Daniel Duane’s manifesto about free weights last year, I joined the local gym and started lifting. Over a year later, my surfing has improved, and more importantly, my back is hurting less after multiple sessions during a swell.

According to Duane, “Muscle withers away if you’re not constantly building it, and muscle withers faster as a man ages. Fading muscle mass gives way to fat gain, stiff joints, stumbling-old-man balance, and a serious drop-off in weekend fun, not to mention self-esteem. But if you fight back right, it can all go the other way. And this means getting strong. The bottom line is that not only can lifting weights do as much for your heart health as cardio workouts, but it also provides you with a lean-muscle coat of armor against life’s inevitable blows.”

So join the gym, jump in the pool, find a yoga class, or like Laird just attach a rope to a giant log and pull it down the beach. Whatever you do, the only way to continue surfing, is to stay as active outside and in the water as much as possible.

The Purest Sport: Bodysurfing the URT Womp

Mark Brown talking it up.

Mark Brown, a legendary San Diego bodysurfer, was the master of ceremonies and chief referee at the 2nd Annual URT Womp, a bodysurfing contest held last Sunday at Coronado’s North Beach.

Bodysurfing is the purest sport of surfing. It is purely natural. You are one with the ocean,” Brown said to participants prior to the start of the event.

My first memory of bodysurfing was in early September 1971 when I first moved to Imperial Beach at the age of seven. My parents drove down to the end of First Street (now Seacoast Drive) to spend the afternoon at the beach.

I eagerly jumped into each small wave I could find and attempted to ride the whitewater as far as possible. Ever since that day I have loved bodysurfing.

During my 13-year career as an Ocean Lifeguard in Imperial Beach and on the Silver Strand, I bodysurfed every chance I got.

A few times each summer, my sons and I head to Boomer in La Jolla to catch a few reef waves at San Diego’s only bodysurfing beach. It is a great place to learn and be humbled.

Doug Mann and Ian Urtnowski, proprietors of the ocean clothing company URT, did their best to make the Womp a great family day at the beach.

“This year we have about three times as many contestants as last year and we have lots of kids,” said Ian.

Kids, young and old ruled the Womp. Joe Byrne, 12, a 7th grader at Coronado Middle School, was stoked.

“I made it to the finals, because I did a couple of barrel rolls,” he said.

Al Hansen, who at 65 is still a grom at heart, was on the beach observing the Womp.  “My first memory of bodysurfing is from 1950 when I was four,” he said.

“We’d go to the beach at the Hotel del Coronado. Later when I was older we had these big sheets we’d fill up with air and we’d ride down the waves and they’d go ‘whoosh’ and the air would rush out. At North Beach, we’d take out surplus life rafts into the surf and jump off of them into the waves.”

Cheyne Merrill of Imperial Beach competed in the 15 and under division making it all the way to the semi-finals. He competed with his fellow Coronado High water polo teammates Elijah Belmontez and Jack Walsh.

Surf scribe, John Elwell, 78, was on hand. John had just returned from a sailing trip in the Sea of Cortez. “Back in 1940-41 we’d come down to the North Beach on horses,” he said. “I learned to bodysurf from my dad who picked it up in Hawaii in 1939.”

Surf author John Elwell.

Others present included Jim and Nancy Walsh (Jim made the finals but had a head-first encounter with a dog that was loose in the whitewater), Chris and Sarah Holder, Rich Hidalgo the chief event judge, Matt Finley and Dan Mann whose son was a finalist in the 14 and under division.

Somehow I made it all the way to the final heat with Jim Walsh, Damon Bassett (who made the beautiful hand plane trophies), Bobby Wurzelbacher (who won last year), Scott Lambert and Ross Sinclair.

All of my fellow finalists were great bodysurfers, taking off underwater, spinning in the barrel and whitewater.

Ross, a former water polo player at UCSB, ended up winning. Scott came in second. I ended up third. Both Scott and Ross are Newport Beach Lifeguards and awesome bodysurfers.

The finalists. Scott Lambert (2nd), Ross Sinclair (1) and me (third). Photo courtesy of Drew McGill

So thanks to Doug and Ian and the entire URT family for proving that there is nothing better than spending a day in the ocean with a pair of swim fins, a few friends, and a big smile.

Full results for the event can be found here.

Sandy Beach and the Pure Joy of Waveriding

Sandy Beach on the southeast tip of Oahu is arguably one of the world’s most unique waveriding locations. On any given day a group of committed individuals gather together to ride waves on the most diverse collection of tools used anywhere.

Visit Sandy during a south swell and you’ll find kids young and old expertly surfing the vicious shorebreak using bodyboards, soft-top surfboards, fiberglass surfboards, McDonald’s food trays, handmade wooden hand planers, swim paddles, and bodysurfing with swim fins and without.

This is the beach that President Obama famously bodysurfed during his first presidential campaign. When he stuck out his arm in the classic bodysurfin position, surfers all over the world recognized him as the real deal. Our President knows how to bodysurf. And whether it is 2 feet or 10 feet, the waves at Sandy are not easy. You have to want to be there.

South swells are wedged together to pound this 400-yard long beach with terrifying precision in about one foot of water. A local told me, “It doesn’t matter if it just 2 feet. You are guaranteed to get a barrel.” The waves are round and hollow.

The water at Sandy is crystal clear and warm which makes it an inviting place to get wet. But don’t be mistaken by the tranquil looking sea. Just getting in and out of the shorebreak requires negotiating the current, the shorepound and the steep beach.

Turn your back on the waves at Sandy and you’ll be sorry. The lifeguards continually monitor the crowd from two portable towers. They announce on loudspeakers, “Please be careful, the surf is up today. There is no other location in the U.S. where more people have their necks broken. So be cautious and careful.”

On our first visit there, a new south swell was building. With a strong tidal push in the middle of the afternoon, we could feel and see the surf increasing. Since the waves break onshore it was difficult to judge their height.

While out bodysurfing I observed one surfer scratch into a wave. Just before the lip destroyed him, I caught a glimpse of him at the very bottom. The wave was twice his height or about 11-12.’ But estimating the size of shorebreak is difficult. Let’s just say the waves were poundful.

On the east side of the beach are two reefs. Both offer up slabby gnarly A-frames, with the lefts beating out the rights. Waves on the inside reef wedge up and alllowed a couple of expert surfers to snag a few choice barrels. One surfer backdoored the rights all afternoon scoring deep barrels. Another surfed  the left, avoiding a large rock on the inside and connecting to the shorebreak where he was either decimated or barreled or both.

The most impressive performers were the surfers riding bodyboards. They had no fins or leashes and took off on the gnarliest set waves, stood up and ripped, hitting the lip, carving 360s and getting deep barrels.

Sandy is popular, crowded, sunny and perfect. And best of all, after you get tired of being pounded into the sand there is a Wahoo’s Fish Taco Truck standing by to provide up lots of bowls, burritos and tacos to help you get over the pain.

My sons and I surfed a lot of spots on Oahu. We had the most fun at Sandy’s.

Sandy Beach: Waveriding Paradise and Obama’s Favorite Wave

Sandy Beach on the south shore of  Oahu has it all. Great sand, crystal clear water, big park, lifeguards, an incredible shorebreak and a few slabby reefs for surfing. And the beach scene is something out a reality show: South Shore Beach Scene–Glee meets Point Break meets North Shore.

The water at Sandy Beach is crystal clear.

President Obama at Sandy Beach. People love to criticize Obama as feckless. But let me tell you, pulling into a wave at Sandy requires cojones. And the Tea Party hacks wouldn't even be able to drag their pasty blubber past their knees before being knocked down by the whitewater.

This is where President Obama went to bodysurf during his campaign for President. And when surfers worldwide saw him put out his arm in the classic bodysurfing position, we knew we was the real deal. And let me tell you-Sandy Beach is legit brah!!!!! I can guarantee not on of those Tea Party goofballs would last a minute out there in a one on one with our Bodysurfing Prez!

My youngest son Daniel on left on the east side of the beach. Rocks everywhere just below the surface.

Sandy Beach is a bodysurfing haven. The key is to find something to use as a hand planer.Daniel and my oldest son Israel share a fun wave. When it gets big the risk of injury is high. According to the lifeguards, there is nowhere else where more necks are broken in the U.S. I believe it.

Daniel driving into the barrel.

The bodyboarders are amazing. Many are standing up and just surfing their bodyboarders. One told me that he was "a surfer surfing a boardyboard." These waves require committment to get over the hump and into the face.

This guy was ripping. These were not easy waves to make. The wave boils over the reef. The right off this wave is a crazy barrel. A guy was backdooring it all afternoon (no photos though).

DIY bodysurfing tools--a swim paddle, homemade hand planer, and a McDonald's food tray.

What seals the deal on President Obama's bodysurfing street cred is the fact that he can go left and right. The man knows what he is doing. Looks to me like he is a "goofyfoot" and favors going left (as I do).

Oh yeah, when you get hungry, you just stroll over to the Wahoo's fish taco truck--the only one in the world!

%d bloggers like this: